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Macron won France's presidency, but the votes indicate an increasingly divided nation


French President Emmanuel Macron was elected to a second term at the end of April and sworn in over the weekend. And even though Macron won, the right wing's Marine Le Pen did increase her votes from when the two of them faced off five years ago. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports that Le Pen's support is strongest in the parts of France that feel left behind.


ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The Normandy town of Elbeuf is far from the holiday and D-Day beaches that draw thousands of tourists. The city's main draw in the last century were textile factories that earned Elbeuf the title of sheep capital. But those days are long gone.

(Speaking French).

Residents Raymond and Stefane Blot both voted for Marine Le Pen. The 68-year-old retiree and his 29-year-old son, who receives disability benefits because he's illiterate, both live in subsidized public housing. They say it's harder to get a spot these days because of Ukrainian refugees.

RAYMOND BLOT: (Through interpreter) Marine Le Pen thinks of the French first. Of course it's bad for these poor people in the war, but the French need to come first. Our president is more concerned for Europe than for France, and he has enriched the rich and left the poor like us on the side of the road.

BEARDSLEY: The Blots describe taking part in the yellow vest protests a few years ago. The working-poor movement from the heartland dogged Macron for much of his term. Christophe Guilluy is author of "Twilight Of The Elites." He says France today is divided by geography, and the Blots belong to what he calls peripheral France.

CHRISTOPHE GUILLUY: (Through interpreter) On one side are the large, globalized cities, and on the other, France of the periphery. And for the last 20 years, job and wealth creation has been concentrated in the cities where most ordinary people don't live. And this creates a huge democratic and cultural malaise.

BEARDSLEY: He says France is no longer split along traditional left-right politics.

GUILLUY: (Through interpreter) The candidates who made it to the second round this time and in 2017 were instrumental in ending the left-right era. Neither Macron nor Le Pen believes in this divide, and they're the ones getting the most votes today.

BEARDSLEY: Macron boasts creating high-tech jobs. He has brought France's unemployment rate down to 7%, the lowest in a decade. His problem - you don't feel that in this corner of Normandy.

AUTOMATED VOICE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Neighboring Tourville la Riviere has had a communist mayor since 1945, but that didn't stop the town from voting for Le Pen. Resident David Mercier says people believed she would bring back solid factory jobs.

DAVID MERCIER: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "The jobs created nowadays are precarious, minimum-wage positions for young people," he says. "There's no future in such work. People are fed up."


BEARDSLEY: Thirty percent of Elbeuf's population lives below the poverty level. Kids play soccer in a public housing project that stands in jarring contrast to the town's older buildings and churches. There are also many immigrants, old and new. Djamilla Jeudevois' parents came to France from Algeria. The unemployed 47-year-old is raising her four kids in the same housing project where she grew up.

DJAMILLA JEUDEVOIS: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "Le Pen is better," she says. "We voted for her because she does what she says. Macron doesn't keep his promises." Jeudevois says Macron pushed job training to gain new skills. "I don't want training," she says, "I just want a job."


BEARDSLEY: Najate Saoues is shopping in a budget grocery store in Elbeuf. Saoues, who wears a hijab, voted for Macron but says she doesn't begrudge those who chose Le Pen, even though Le Pen has advocated banning the Muslim veil in public.

NAJATE SAOUES: (Through interpreter) Not everyone who votes Le Pen is racist, not at all. I know many. People are just tired of trying to get by with less. Whether they're French, immigrants, veil-wearers, we're all affected.

BEARDSLEY: Saoues says a vote for Le Pen is a vote of anger against Macron and in support of a candidate who represents the forgotten France. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Elbeuf, Normandy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.